The Absence of Presence last weekend. Even though the band retains only two members from its 1970s heyday, the new release is an impressive facsimile of the majestic pomp of Kansas’ prime. Receiving the awful but not unexpected news of the death of my friend R. prompted the listening session.
R. was my best friend for three or four years ending in 1977. He loved prog-rock and jazz-fusion. R’s unusually kind and accommodating father escorted us to my first large-scale rock concert in 1976. Fleetwood Mac, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Heart, Head East and Henry Gross were on the bill of Summer Jam at Royals Stadium, but R. was all about Kansas’ set. We’d later see concerts by the likes of Genesis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer together. Encountering another kid in my new neighborhood with a similarly severe music obsession altered the trajectory of my life.
Although I always preferred Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Earth, Wind & Fire and the country music I was raised on, R. expanded my horizons. An aspiring drummer, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham, Phil Collins, Jack DeJohnette, Carl Palmer and Tony Williams were among his favorite musicians. Watching R. attempt to play along with tracks like “Nuclear Burn” and “Tank” introduced me to jazz and classical music.
My bond with R. inevitably decayed after my family moved again. Our infrequent communication in the intervening years focused on girlfriends, wives and work rather than music. R.’s death leaves me with only one surviving close male friend from my childhood and teen years. As with my other pals, R. succumbed to substance abuse. Dust in the wind, indeed.
(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)